Ecological, ethnobotanical, and nutritional aspects of Yellow Glacier Lily, Erythronium grandiflorum Pursh (Liliaceae), in Western Canada




Loewen, Dawn Christy

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This research examined a single bulb-bearing edible plant species, yellow glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum ). Three main approaches to the research were taken: 1) an ecological study, to determine the general habitat requirements of the species in western Canada, and to investigate the nature of vegetative reproduction in the species; 2) an ethnobotanical study, consisting of an extensive literature search for all recorded First Nations' uses of the species (in Canada and elsewhere), in addition to interviews with contemporary Interior Salish elders; 3) a nutritional study, examining in detail the nutritional characteristics of the bulbs, and particularly changes in the carbohydrate content over the course of the growing season and with different types of treatments. The ecological data indicate that E. grandiflorum is more abundant in meadow environments or sites with deciduous cover than in sites with coniferous forest cover. Flowering plants tended to be more abundant and robust at low elevation meadows, while seedlings and juveniles were disproportionately represented at high elevation meadows. Decreased juvenile success in the low-elevation meadows may be related to relatively high litter from shrubs and grasses. Experimental data indicate that appendages on the bulbs, which persist as remnants of previous years' bulbs, can act as vegetative propagules if mechanically separated. In addition, both bulbs and appendages were successfully transplanted over a two-year period from a subalpine meadow to a very different habitat type, 1500 m lower in elevation. The ethnobotanical review confirms that the species was traditionally a highly significant root resource for northern plateau peoples, particularly the Secwepemc and Nlaka'pamux peoples, for probably thou.sands of years. These peoples collected, stored, and traded large quantities of the bulbs, and the traditional processing strategies generally included drying and pit-cooking. People developed a detailed ecological understanding of the species, and practiced active resource management strategies. Nutritional results indicated a carbohydrate-rich food resource, with the main storage carbohydrate consisting of starch (not inulin or other fructan) through most of the growing season. There are significant quantities of sugars (including fructo-oligosaccharides) present at the beginning of the growing season, but starch increases rapidly and peaks (along with overall food value) in the early (green) fruit stage of growth. For bulbs at the fruiting stage, drying markedly increases sugars in the bulbs relative to starch, while pit-cooking the dried bulbs does not have significant effects on relative amounts of carbohydrates. However, pit-cooking has important qualitative effects on the appearance, taste, and possibly storage properties of the bulbs, as well as representing an efficient processing strategy. I argue that traditional harvesting and management strategies practiced by First Nations people (including tilling, thinning, replanting of appendages, and landscape burning) mean that the ecology and ethnobotany of the species cannot be considered in isolation. Based on previous ecological and ethnoecological work on this and similar species, it seems likely that yellow glacier lily is adapted to a periodic, moderate disturbance regime, which traditional practices may have mimicked or enhanced.



edible plant, Interior Salish, meadow environment, deciduous cover, fructo-oligosaccharides